After one of the most successful regular seasons in program history, the Villanova Wildcats are out to defend their Big East regular season championship. If there is any season that head coach Jay Wright could ask for a chance to repeat, this might be the one. The Wildcats are returning four of their five starters, with only James Bell leaving, and as a whole are returning just under 84 percent of the minutes and just under 80 percent of the points from last season's team.
Most of those numbers come from the four returnees in the starting lineup, so here are my projections for what next season's starting five will look like.
Point Guard - Ryan Arcidiacono (Junior): Arcidiacono really found himself as a point guard during his sophomore season. The transformation from more of a scoring point guard to true point guard was noticeable in both his play and his statistics. Last season, he took about a shot per game less than in 2013. While his assist numbers remained the same (3.5 APG) he did that while cutting his turnover rate in half. Much of this came from his improved vision and patience, as he stopped forcing things and let his playmakers make him look good. Look for Arcidiacono to improve again in 2014 with another year as the court general with a loaded starting five.
Shooting Guard - Josh Hart (Sophomore) Last season, Hart primarily played the role of sixth man for the Wildcats. Now, with senior James Bell's departure, Hart slides into the starting lineup. He made most of his minutes off the bench last season, averaging 7.8 points per game. He was not always the most consistent scorer, and some of that had to do with Darrun Hilliard, Pinkston and Bell all averaging over 14 points. But he had his moments where he shined offensively. The game that comes to mind for me is the Big East Tournament Quarterfinal when the Seton Hall Pirates upset the Wildcats. Hart was huge part in Villanova's comeback attempt, and despite it failing, he wound up leading the team in scoring, so he has the potential on the offensive end. I do not necessarily think he'll put up James Bell-type numbers next season, but should come close.
Small Forward - Darrun Hilliard II (Sr): Even though Bell was the leading scorer for Villanova, Hilliard was, for all intents and purposes, the team's go-to scorer in the final third of the season. He really did a good job of picking up the slack over that time period, especially with Bell's inconsistencies. Hilliard was the Wildcats' best 3-point shooter last season, at 41.4 percent and will be key for Villanova this upcoming season in order to help stretch the floor on offense. I also think that with Bell gone, much of the scoring load will be on Hilliard's shoulders, along with fellow senior JayVaughn Pinkston. To me, if Hilliard can regain his offensive form from the final part of last season, he could emerge as one of the most prolific scorers in the Big East and a dark-horse Big East Player of the Year candidate.
Power Forward - JayVaughn Pinkston (Sr): Last season was easily the best so far for Pinkston in his Wildcat career. He recorded career highs in points (14.1), rebounds (6.1), free throw percentage (74.0 percent) and shooting percentage (52.1 percent). To go along with those career bests, he also set a career low in turnovers, with less than two per game. Now while it was a great season for him, the question is: can he repeat this success? With Bell gone, much more of the scoring responsibility falls upon his shoulders, which means he will require more touches and more shots. I think part of what made Pinkston so effective last season was that he had two other weapons around him in Hilliard and Bell. Now, with one of them gone, it will be interesting to see if his statistics suffer as a result. If not, I think he could be the biggest key to whether or not the Wildcats not only repeat as Big East Champions, but whether or not they make a run in March.
Center - Daniel Ochefu (Jr): Now Ochefu is an interesting player. This is because he does not get much attention outside of people who really follow Villanova basketball. Much of this is because his offensive numbers, only 5.7 points per game last season, do not really jump off the box score. In reality though, according to some NBA scouts Ochefu has the best draft potential out of any Villanova players. Specifically out of any of those that started last season. A lot of this comes from what he can bring on the defensive end. He is a very mobile big man, and it certainly helps that he played point guard in high school, who has good instinct to if not block the shot, at least alter it. He also has a great nose for the ball on the boards, as he tied for the team-high in rebounding last season. He did show some flashes offensively at time, especially when he led a couple nifty fast breaks, but not enough to be considered a legitimate and consistent offensive threat. If he continues to develop his offensive game though, maybe not next season but the year after, he could transform into one of the top players in the conference.